Where does the EU stand on cleaner cars?

The EU has moved to reign in car emissions... we take a look at just how far the measures go.

On April 24, the Environment Committee of the European Parliament voted on a regulatory proposal to define CO2 emission targets for new passenger cars for the time period 2020 and beyond. This vote was an important step in the finalisation of the 2020 EU CO2 regulation and in proposing program improvements after 2020.

Currently, Regulation (EC) No 443/2009 is in place, setting a mandatory CO2 emission target of 130g CO2 per kilometre (g/km) for 2015. Individual targets for manufacturers are based on average vehicle weight; the heavier a manufacturer’s fleet, the higher its specific 2015 target.

In July 2012 the European Commission issued a regulatory proposal confirming a 95 g/km target for 2020 and specifying the regulatory details. A summary of that proposal can be found here.

The EU regulatory procedure requires that European Commission proposals need to be adopted by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. Members of the Parliament are elected directly by the EU citizens, whereas the Council of Ministers is made up of the governments of the 27 EU Member States. One might say that the Parliament represents the lower legislative chamber and the Council of Ministers the upper chamber in the EU political system.

The Commission proposal was intensively discussed in three parliamentary committees: Environment, Transport, and Energy. Members of the committees suggested numerous changes to the original proposal and in the end voted on those suggestions. The Environment Committee has the lead regarding vehicle CO2 regulation and had the final say, voting at the end of April.

Some of the key points of the outcome, and how they differ from the original European Commission proposal, are summarised in the table below.

Graph for Where does the EU stand on cleaner cars?

The 95 g/km target for 2020 is confirmed by the Parliament. As for the current regulation, the specific target for each manufacturer will depend on their actual vehicle fleet composition. However, instead of just using mass as the underlying index parameter – the heavier a car, the higher the CO2 emission level allowed – the Parliament adds vehicle size as an alternative parameter.

So from 2020 on manufacturers can choose to comply by making use of mass or size (measured as ‘footprint’ of a vehicle) as the index parameter. The Parliament also clearly indicated that a shift to a footprint-only system is foreseen for the time period after 2020. The pros and cons of both parameters and the expected benefits of a footprint based system, encouraging the development and use of lightweight materials, have been discussed in detail here and here.

The original European Commission proposal specified that vehicles with a CO2 emission level below 35 g/km would be counted using a multiplier of 1.3 for the time period 2020–2023, mostly to encourage the uptake of electrified vehicles. At the same time the Commission suggested capping the number of such vehicles at 20,000 per manufacturer; any vehicles sold on top of this number would only be counted with a factor of 1.

In the European Parliament decision, the threshold for vehicles that qualify for these ‘supercredits’ is increased to 50 g/km. Also, the multiplier is increased to 1.5. The upper limit, the cap, is now defined in g/km of CO2 instead of the number of vehicles. It is set at 2.5 g/km per manufacturer. This means, assuming that all manufacturers would make full use of the supercredit option, the 2020 target would turn out to be 97.5 g/km instead of 95.0 g/km.

At the United Nations level, a new test cycle and test procedure for light-duty vehicles is under development, the so-called Worldwide harmonised Light vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP). Recent research shows that the ‘real-world’ CO2 emissions from new cars in the EU are about 20 per cent higher than suggested by test cycle values. It is expected that the WLTP will fix some of the problems with the current test procedure and provide more realistic CO2 estimates.

The European Parliament specifies that “the test procedure should if feasible be changed not later than January 1, 2017 to the WLTP and incorporated into Union law.” The Parliament also asks the European Commission to consider supplementing the WLTP by incorporating additional provisions when transferring it into EU law, if needed. In case the WLTP is not adopted by January 1 2017, the European Commission should “at the earliest opportunity”, amend the EU internal regulations to account for the actual on-road CO2 emissions of vehicles.

Finally, the European Parliament defined an indicative range of 68–78 g/km for a 2025 target. The European Commission is asked to carry out a review and impact assessment with respect to this 2025 target range and, if “duly justified,” a lower target as well. The review is to be carried out by January 1, 2017.

As a next step, the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers must negotiate the final regulatory wording. It is therefore possible that some details might still change. At the moment it seems likely that an agreement will be reached fairly soon, probably before July 2013. As soon as this happens, ICCT will summarise the regulatory details.

It should also be noted that, in parallel to the CO2 regulation for cars, a similar regulation for light-commercial vehicles is under discussion. The current proposal would set a 2020 CO2 target for light-commercial vehicles at 147 g/km. The Environment Committee of the European Parliament will vote on this issue on May 7, and the ICCT will summarise the outcomes as soon as the Parliament has reached a common position.

More details, including elements of the proposal not discussed here, can be found in European Parliament document A7-0151/2013, here.

Comments from various stakeholders on the European Parliament vote: ACEA (manufacturers’ association), T&E (umbrella organization of environmental NGOs), BEUC (consumers’ association), FIA (car clubs’ association), Greenpeace.

This article was originally published by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT). Republished with permission.

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